Elevators keep malfunctioning in this 7-year-old TCH rental building
|Toronto Star 05 Sep 2019 at 17:04|
Elevators trapping people inside is just one of the concerns raised by multiple residents of 150 Dan Leckie Way, a relatively new 41-storey Toronto Community Housing rental building.
They say it’s also not unusual to wait in long lines for one of their three elevators to show up in the building near Bathurst and Front Sts.
And in July, a tenant reported receiving serious injuries to her elbow and knee after one of the elevators she was travelling down in suddenly accelerated triggering the safety brakes and sending the woman lurching, according to Toronto Community Housing (TCH).
Though TCH currently has a capital repair backlog of $1.8 billion, 150 Dan Leckie — a 427-unit building — is only seven years old.
The tenants say things got so bad that building management held a meeting with tenants in April to discuss the elevator situation.
But, they say, little has changed since then.
“They (management) swore up and down they were going to fix the problem. The problem has not been fixed. If anything, it’s gotten worse,” says Brian Pugh, 68, who has lived in the building for two years.
Pugh said his wife was recently trapped in one of the elevators for several minutes — a fellow passenger got so frustrated and frightened that the individual began banging and kicking the elevator doors — and earlier this month Pugh said an elevator went “berserk” when he tried to board, opening and closing its doors several times in rapid succession. He left and took the stairs.
Longtime resident Trista Dobson, 23, said one or more of the elevators are broken down or running extremely slow at least twice a week, and she has often seen long lineups when two or none of the elevators are in service.
“There’s no sense of urgency to fix the problems,” she said, noting when she worked at the Tim Hortons, steps from the front door of the building, she was still often late for work.
Jocelyn Herbert, 20, another resident, said she has waited up to an hour to get to the lobby from her unit near the top floor because two or more of the elevators are down.
Mark Sraga, director of investigation services with Toronto’s municipal licensing and standards division, said problems at 150 Dan Leckie are symptomatic of a larger issue in the city — the inability to service the large number of elevators as Toronto’s building boom continues.
“There’s only a finite capacity in the industry to install elevators, trouble shoot and service them and maintain and repair them. That all contributes to the issues being faced,” Sraga said, adding a shortage of elevator mechanics is exacerbating the problems.
TCH acknowledged problems at the building, based on concerns they have received.
The public organization tracks the number of calls about elevator service made to its client care centre and 150 Dan Leckie Way has historically had a “higher than average number of calls,” among all its buildings, TCH said in a statement to the Star.
Regarding the July 11 incident in which the tenant was injured, TCH gave an account based on evidence obtained through the building’s security system.
They said around 8:30 p.m., a female passenger boarded the elevator on the 34th floor, followed shortly by a male passenger. Both were headed to the parking garage at the P1 level.
The elevator descended as usual, but at the 19th floor it stopped, then began descending at a rapid speed — normally travelling at a rate of 1,000 feet per minute, the elevator’s safety system detected it was travelling 10 per cent faster.
This triggered a safety mechanism that brought the elevator to a halt between the lobby (L) and lower level parking garage (LL), one level above the lowest-level P1, said Bruce Malloch, a spokesperson for TCH.
The total distance between the 19th floor and P1 level is 210 feet. The distance between floors is 10 feet.
The abrupt stop caused the female tenant to “pitch forward” against the male passenger, TCH said in the statement. The elevator remained at LL for about 10 seconds, then ascended to the sixth floor where both passengers got off.
“The elevator’s safety systems performed normally and the governors (speed monitoring devices) brought the car to a stop in the manner which they are designed to do,” Malloch said.
TCH said the female passenger reported experiencing serious injuries to her elbow and knee as a result of the incident.
All three of the elevators in the building are a high-speed model manufactured by Schindler, a Switzerland-based firm with an office in Toronto, and one of the major elevator makers in the world.
Schindler said in a statement that “the elevator involved in the reported incident is designed with multiple redundant safety features to ensure safe and reliable vertical transportation.”
The company has had a serious incident involving one of its elevators elsewhere. In 2006 in Minato, Tokyo, a Schindler elevator started going up while the door was open, crushing to death a 16-year-old boy who was getting off with his bike. A faulty brake was found to be the cause.
In regards to the 150 Dan Leckie incident, TCH immediately reported the event to Schindler, who sent a technician to inspect the elevator. The problem was cleared, TCH said, the elevator tested and restored to service the next day.
The housing agency and Schindler both reported the incident to Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA), a non-profit that administers and enforces technical standards.
“We can confirm that the elevator in question came to a sudden stop as a result of a malfunction of an electronic module,” TSSA spokesperson Joanne Rider said in a statement. “The electronic module was subsequently replaced, tested and confirmed to be in safe working condition for public use by Schindler Elevator Corporation, the maintenance contractor responsible.”
In April, TCH representatives held a meeting with tenants to discuss the elevator concerns.
“As the building’s three high-speed elevators can only be serviced by the manufacturer, we have been working with the manufacturer to improve responsiveness when breakdowns occur so that 150 Dan Leckie tenants can enjoy more consistent service,” TCH’s Malloch told the Star.
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He said the high-speed elevators were thought to be able to handle the traffic in the building, but the demand has led to wear and tear.
“There is a lot of demand on the elevators in the building. We have had problems maintaining them. There have been breakdowns,” Malloch added.
In April, a CTV story detailed how a 15-year-old boy missed a day of school because he couldn’t get his wheelchair into the only working elevator in the building that morning. Video shot by the boy’s mother showed how the elevator stopped on the floor the boy was waiting on, but it was too packed to board.
They waited for another, but meanwhile the school bus left without him.
In a statement to the Star, Schindler spokesperson Kim Hoskins said, “unfortunately, this building is severely under-elevatored, with only three elevators serving (41) floors, far fewer than Schindler would recommend for a building of this size.”
Hoskins said with the support of TCH, Schindler has done work over the last several months to “significantly improve the safety, performance and reliability” of the elevators.
“This work included several planned outages throughout the summer to address necessary levelling work and adjustments to sensors. These outages were scheduled in coordination with building management during off hours in order to minimize impact to the residents.”
Schindler said that following this work, the number of service callbacks has decreased over the same time period last year and “we expect that trend to continue moving forward.”
Doug Guderian, president of the Canadian Elevator Contractors Association, said the availability of mechanics to service elevators in Ontario “varies a fair bit” company to company, depending how much of their resources they choose to allocate to new constructions, modernizations and repairs, among other things.
“Typically it’s only about 50 per cent of manpower that is committed to service calls and regular preventative maintenance,” Guderian said.
He said when something goes wrong the elevator contractor is often blamed, but building owners, property managers, insurance companies, the TSSA, and other parties are also part of the decision-making process.
“Elevator contractors do their best to keep things running as well as they can, based on the decisions made by other parties,” Guderian said, though he added whenever there’s a lot of new construction, elevator companies “often” choose to allocate resources to that area, and service can be less of a priority.
There are 62 licensed elevator contractors in Ontario and about 1,500 unionized Class A mechanics, 1,500 non-unionized mechanics in the province, and about 3,000 mechanics in training.
The average pay in Ontario for a licensed mechanic is about $55 an hour.
There are almost 20,000 passenger elevators in more than 10,000 residential and institutional buildings in Ontario, according to TSSA data referenced in a 2017 study by retired Ontario Superior Court Justice Douglas Cunningham into the state of the province’s elevators.
The report noted that contractors responded to 9,650 elevator “entrapments” in 2016, equal to more than 26 a day.
Among his findings, Cunningham noted there are “currently no minimum preventative maintenance standards” for elevators, which he said appears to be “undermining” the availability and reliability of elevators that have been installed in buildings.
He recommended contractors be forced to report elevator outages that have lasted more than 48 hours or when half the elevators in a building aren’t in service. Contractors must also have a “defined plan” to restore service, Cunningham urged.
In early 2018, Ontario’s then Liberal government promised to act on the report, and put forward plans to change the Ontario Building Code to ensure highrise buildings have suitable elevator capacity for residents.
The province also proposed changes that would give the TSSA the right to impose fines for elevator infractions.
Legislation to this effect was brought forward, but the current provincial government has not yet enacted the law or put forward regulations to support it.